Love for One Another
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
An Urgent Appeal
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Reproving Another Who Sins
15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
It’s amazing how certain verses can become so common in Christian culture that most Christians could quote the verse to you but would struggle to find it in the bible or (more importantly) tell you about the context surrounding the verse. This week’s Gospel reading is an excellent example of this. If you spend a significant time of people around people who pray out loud together, you’ll have heard Matthew 18:20 hundreds of times:
'For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
What most people don’t realise, however, is that verse is not about corporate prayer … It’s about discipline and the authority given to leaders to challenge members of the community. This is a tricky topic and I’m glad that Jesus promises to be present with us in the midst of it!
(Does that mean that Jesus is not there when we pray together? Of course not. But, as far as I can make out, it is not the primary point that he is making in this passage. Context, as always, is key)
There are several reasons that such a topic is tricky:
1. The church worldwide has misused its authority in the past and, as a result, people are often skeptical or suspicious of the church’s motivations It has not just lost its right to speak to the world outside itself but also, in many areas or on many issues, the right to speak authoritatively to its own members.
2. Individualism and autonomy are central values in western culture. We pride ourselves on being self-made, independent adults who make our own decisions. A church or a Christian that attempts to challenge or criticise is often perceived as overstepping their boundaries and/or overestimating their authority.
3. There are some high-profile examples of popular churches using these verses destructively today, the biggest example being Mars Hill Church in Seattle, home of controversial pastor, Mark Driscoll.
If you’ve listened to The Graveyard Shift podcast, there’s a good chance you already know my feelings on Mark Driscoll.
To put my feelings kindly, I strongly disagree with him in his approach to theology and ministry.
To be more honest, he really, really, REALLY frustrates me. My lack of love for him is something that God is convicting me of and addressing. While I know that I need to muster more love and time for him as a person, I have no love for his teaching on three key issues: gender, sex and shunning.
The first two issues are subjects that other bloggers have covered extensively and are beyond the bounds of this blog post. Mars Hill’s policy of ‘shunning’, however, cuts to the core of our understanding of Matthew 18. Like many churches and Christian communities, they follow Jesus’ instructions:
1. If you have an issue with someone then go and raise it privately with them.
If someone hurts you then don’t gossip about it. Don’t backbite. Don’t write a passive-aggressive Facebook post about it. Have the guts to approach them and deal with it directly without destroying their reputation.
2. If you aren’t listened to, approach them again with two people you love and trust.
Invite wise people in. They will help guide you and be witnesses to what happens from this point on.
3. If they do not listen to you then invite the church community and its leadership into the situation.
Some issues must be dealt with at a community level (Others aren’t!) and the power of community is crucial in bringing justice, change and reconciliation.
4. If they do not listen to the church then treat them as you would a ‘gentile’ or a tax collector.
This is where some communities (including Mars Hill) misunderstand Jesus’ instructions. They interpret this verse as a command to expel or shun the accused — which only makes sense if that is the way you would treat a gentile or tax collector.
Jesus, however, didn’t treat anyone that way (except, arguably, some religious leaders!)
Jesus broke down cultural barriers with gentiles. (John 4) He didn’t just talk to them. He healed them. (Matthew 15)
Jesus ate at the homes of tax collectors (Luke 19) and partied with them (Matthew 9).
When Jesus teaches us how resolve conflict, the final step is not a command to shun or shame. Jesus doesn’t command us to break relationship with the one who has hurt us. He calls us to break bread with them. Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn it but to give his life for it, to rescue it. When someone hurts you, then confront them. Seek justice, reconciliation and restoration.
‘But what if they don’t listen?’
Then treat them like a gentile or a tax collector — Love them. Pray for them. Serve them.